First, an unexpected encounter…
I was going through my mail, and as always the “junk” pile was mountains taller than my actual mail pile. I whipped out my handy dandy iPhone and opened the PaperKarma App. (PSA: if you’ve ever complained about your junk mail mountain but didn’t know how to even start to tackle it, this app is for YOU).
Anyway, I started to unsubscribe from REI’s catalog. If you’re shocked that I would want to unsubscribe for REI, rest assured that it is only because I love REI too much to be tempted on a quarterly basis by its novel camping gadgets, shirts with nerdy sayings, and general adventure gear; it’s purely a financial imperative.
Audrey! Get on with the story!
Okay. So. I poignantly flip through what will (hopefully) be my last REI catalog, and this stunning wintery landscape catches my eye. Next to it was an article, Finding Home in Alaska’s Backcountry (don’t worry, no display of products for sale, so I was safe).
I proceeded to read Shannon’s delightful story about cultivating an appreciation and respect for her “childhood playground” in Alaska only after she moved away from it. But I got hung up in the middle of the article by the phrase “human-powered adventure.” Without reading on to learn her definition of the phrase, I knew exactly what she meant! I was like, “Aha! That’s the name for it!”. In case the same thing didn’t just happen for you, she writes that human-powered adventures involve “relying on [your] bodies to climb a peak or traverse valleys.” Her human-powered adventure of choice is backcountry skiing, an activity she picked up upon returning to Alaska five years later.
The reason this concept resonated with me right off the bat is that I’ve never really embraced or even approached most activities that require helmets or wheels. And when I do, it doesn’t always turn out so great…
I used to think that this made me an un-adventuresome person. But I have come to realize that that couldn’t be further from the truth! I am a human-powered adventurer! Doesn’t that have an empowering ring to it?! I want to scream it on top of a mountain! ⛰
I AM A HUMAN-POWERED ADVENTURER!!
That seems like the perfect opportunity to segue to a tale of my most recent human-powered adventure. It took place this summer on St. Lucia (in the eastern Caribbean), where I hiked the Gros Piton with my #mightyfamily!
Despite the perspective of this photo, we hiked the highest point on St. Lucia! #hiyah! Okay, I can’t get too cocky because the Petit Piton, while slightly shorter, is incredibly steep and requires rock climbing equipment. 🧗♀️ 🤭Maybe we will take that on next time😏.
…wait, would that qualify as human-powered adventure? Hmmm….
Now sit back and relax while I take you on a human-powered adventure through a series of mediocre quality photos (even that might be a stretch; I was decidedly not up for lugging around a fancy camera), from the comfort of your own laptop/phone/tablet/virtual reality goggles (I wish!).
Part 1: The Ascent
The Pitons are two mountainous volcanic “plugs” dominate the west coast of the island nation of St. Lucia, located near a town called Soufriere. They are so magnificent and iconic that they have been the inspiration for the nation’s flag and (more importantly) local brew.
On the flag, the blue field represents the Caribbean Sea, and the triangles symbolize the Pitons.
The twin volcanic peaks are about 260,000 years old, which is very recent in geologic terms. They represent the core of a lava dome volcano that formed along the western edge of a large preexisting caldera from a collapsed stratovolcano. The area is still volcanically active but, apart from minor steam explosions, there have been no eruptions on Saint Lucia in the last few hundred years. Saint Lucia is fortunate to be spared these events, since neighboring Martinique and St. Vincent have been afflicted by the first and ninth most deadly eruptions of the twentieth century, respectively.
Hilarious sidebar that I can’t help but to include (Wow, I’m one sentence into my story and I’m already sidebar-ing?! Trust me, it’s #worthit):
The previous day, during our sailboat excursion pictured above, one of our tour guides with a very thick French accent was telling me why the town was named “Soufriere.”
He said, “It is because of all of the ‘sofa in the air.’”
“Sofa?” I ask with a puzzled expression.
“Yes, so much sofa,” he affirmed with a jovial chuckle.
I was pretty bewildered, but he seemed emphatic that I was correct in my interpretation. It wasn’t until much later that day, when I got a whiff of rotten eggs and I realized the blunder. Turns out that I couldn’t blame the pungent smell on any of the four teenage boys in the van, but rather, it was because we were approaching Sulfur Springs!
Have you guessed it yet? “There’s so much sulfur in the air!”
I guffawed. No one in the van knew what I was talking about, and I proceeded to laugh at and with myself for a solid minute.
This seems like an appropriate time to quote the wisest mouse there ever was:
Okay, back to the hike prep talk.
We were told that a significant number of people end up turning around at the quarter-way mark, and even more turn back at the halfway mark. That’s why there are three guides per group….ummm…. 😳 #wegotthis?
At this point I started to feel a little worried that this could be a total bust, and I would be to blame for putting my family through a back-breaking experience when they could have been soaking up the sun on a beautiful black sand beach.
Now that I think of it, I actually started getting worried about 20 minutes into our 1.5 hour long drive to the mountain at 6 o’clock in the morning. I lost count of the number of wrong turns we made. It was mildly stressful. (Shout out to my mom for navigating some of the most treacherous roads I’ve encountered! So many hairpin turns and so little room for error, which was made that much more taxing by having to drive on the left side of the road).
We forged on despite the words of caution!
I remember thinking as we passed this sign, “Gros Piton trail, what do you hold in store for us? Will we make it to the top? Will some of us turn back? Will my family still love me after this?” Only time would tell…
I must admit that I originally thought that my mom, brother, and I would be the only ones willing to attempt this 4 to 5 hour journey. Boy did I underestimate them! 💪
The terrain was pretty grueling. It was (or at least felt like) a straight shot up the entire way. I was particularly impressed with Nate (age 12) who basically sprinted up the mountain like he had been doing it every day since kindergarten. The little firecracker eventually surpassed our lead guide.
Our steadfast group remained determined to push on (Although, it does look like my brother Tanner might be tempted by the path behind him…).
This is the point where a number of people are satisfied with this (albeit very rewarding) view of the Petit Piton and turn around, but onward we marched.
To be honest, I really expected my dad to turn around at that point. He was lagging pretty far behind and swimming in sweat. As a result, he ended up with his own personal guide for the remainder of the hike 😂. But around every corner he appeared!
Part 2: The Climax
At last, we made it to the top, and with all of our limbs intact! #bonus
The clouds diminished the view a bit, but we were far from disappointed. It reminded us all of the accuracy of this cliche:
I haven’t even mentioned the fact that my mom is severely afraid of heights. She disturbed (well really, entertained) the surrounding tourists by shrieking at Tanner to ‘GET BACK FROM THE EDGE!’ at least a dozen times.
This photo was taken ten or so minutes later… #shatterallfears. (P.S. This isn’t the first time I’ve convinced my acrophobic mother to join me on a mountain climb, see Sleeping Beauty Trail in British Columbia).
“Wait, what?! Dad?! We thought you turned back!” We were in disbelief, after all, he could have been a ghost because he was quite pale.
What made this day even more special was that it was the day after my dad’s birthday!🎂 What better way to bring in year 58, than proving to yourself that you “still got it”?
(Dad, if you’re reading this, does me including a Seinfeld gif make up for me poking fun?! I know how much you like Jerry…)
Of course we had to resume our position on the piton peak so that my #fiercefather could be included the pic!
Part 3: The Descent
What comes up, must come down! Yeah, well easier said than done when you have jello legs…
..which is what I imagine my mom said right before she twisted her ankle. I wasn’t with her when it happened so I don’t know what she said, but this sounds about right for her.
To make matters worse, she managed to take a stumble fairly early on in the descent…like really early… like pretty much immediately 😣. Being the non-complainer that she is, she was determined to try and limp the rest of the way down, but her son insisted that he carry her (at least on the extra rough parts). That’s no easy feat, even if your mom is barely 100 pounds! #proudsistermoment
Part 4: At Sea Level
This story just wouldn’t be complete without a photo of my Dad at the end of the trail. It is a really poor quality photo, but my excuse is that I was trying to stealthily snap it without him noticing; I didn’t want him to think we were making fun! True, I am now sharing it with the world wide web, but it is purely out of love and admiration! And yes, my mother, with her an ankle in a makeshift wrap, was waiting at the end to enthusiastically greet him.
This experience was made infinitely more memorable by sharing it with my family and loved ones. As I mentioned at the start, I was doubtful that most of them would even entertain the idea of joining me.
So, I encourage you human-powered adventurers out there, who have a family member or friend that you would love to have join you in an adventure, (but you’ve never asked them because you just assumed that they would not be up for it because they prefer being indoors, or aren’t physically capable, or they might be too afraid) ASK anyway. And when they decline, ask them the next time, and the next, and the next… because you never know when they will delightfully surprise you. Just prepare yourself that your 4 to 5 hour journey may stretch to 5 or 6… or 7 hours. Okay, fine, it took us 8 hours. Yes, that is double the estimated time for the hike. #dontjudge
The other amazing thing about human-powered adventures is that it doesn’t have to involve any special equipment or training, and generally you can modify activities to suit your level. Like, for example, turning back halfway or taking it extra slow. Also, you don’t have to go to a remote island like St. Lucia and spend a lot of money for this kind of adventure. I think a nearby adventure awaits all of us, we just have to be up for the challenge! #challengeaccepted. If you do, you might have an experience like Shannon the REI writer:
Adventures like these have allowed me to see [my home state] from a new perspective.